Above Pokhara, Nepal, you’ve got a whole lot of trekking options. Some are more trodden than others. For instance, Sarankot, Poon Hill, the Annapurna Circuit, and Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), are pretty frequented and fairly busy, especially at viewpoints. But places like Mohare Danda, Dobato, and Khopra Danda are a lot less touristy, with amazing views to admire in peace. The non-touristy places do not necessarily have inferior views, not at all! It’s just how tourism attractions work, one side of the mountain will be gridlocked, and the other side peaceful and serene, based on wherever Lonely Planet and local agencies focus in on, and which ones they omit.
For this 8 day trek, we got a bit of both worlds. We documented all the trails, including what things to watch for and what things we recommend. With these videos, together with a good map and some ingenuity, you can have the confidence to go on paths less trodden, without a guide.
At least a day before you go, you’ll need your ACAP and TIMS permits in Pokhara. They should be 2000 rs or $20 each. You’ll need a photocopy of your passport and visa and 4 passport pictures. You can usually get 8 passport pictures for 100-200 rs in Pokhara, although they’ll charge more in Lakeside. You can get the permits in Birethanti but it will be double the price and delay your trip. Your hotel in Lakeshore will be used to helping its guests out in these things, so don’t worry about that too much. They can also help you get the bus to Nayapul which is about 2 hours away.
Trekking Without a Guide: Pokhara to Poon Hill
After you arrive in Nayapul from Pokhara and have eaten, you are ready to really start your journey. A short walk from Nayapul to Birethanthi where you will present your forms to be registered in the National Park. The first two days will be a better workout then the stepmaster could ever give you. Your first night will be in Ulleri, where we stayed at the very good Nice View Guest House, which we can recommend. Generally, if you have not been trekking recently, your muscles will really, really hurt by the end of day one. You can take an ibuprofen and make sure you look after any blisters that may develop, so they don’t get worse. But don’t worry, the pain recedes. I was really worried with how sore I was, but our friends assured us that it will pass, and it does.
From Ulleri to Ghorepani (which is your destination if you’re wanting to see Poon Hill the next day) is not a crazy long day. Ghorepani is a decent sized village with lots of options to stay at. The Sunny Hotel was our dwelling of choice, with fantastic food and the best deal offered to our group. It is a very big place with a massive eating area that has solid walls of window panes overlooking truly majestic views when there is no cloud cover.
Generally the hour trek to Poon Hill will start an hour before sunrise so you can catch the spectacle. Unfortunately, a billion other people have the same idea. Single file line up the mountain with hundreds of others is the unfortunate reality for Poon Hill as is the Everest summit. The view is amazing though. Entry is 50 rs. If swimming the crowds and photo bombing isn’t your thing, we strongly recommend Mohare Danda trek, which will take you around the same general trekking route, but you will not have to get up before dawn and fight the crowds. You stay at the guest house, wake up, and walk outside with hardly any people and the same view as Poon Hill. If you’re comfortable with a route that is a little less trekked, Mohare Danda is the way to go, the preferred place for the local Nepali people in the Annapurna area.
Trekking Without a Guide: Ghorepani-Khopra Danda
Day 3 (After Poon Hill):
This first day for Khopra will usually be your third day of trekking and if you went to Poon Hill, the day will have started at 5 in the morning. This was the second hardest day of the trek for us, second only to the Khayer Lake trek. But this day was so difficult only because we chose to reach Dhankarka within the day. It’s a toss up: Swanta seems too short and Dhankarka seems too long. But Swanta is beautiful, more on Swanta in a sec.
As Khopra is less travelled than ABC, and maps are not always super reliable sadly, the blue and white markers will be your savior from Ghorepani on out. The markers can be found in and around every intersection and along the trail frequently. If you’re confused, a local will help you out, but if you’re observant for the markers, you shouldn’t even have to ask. You can either stay in Swanta or Dhankarka this day. Swanta will definitely be a lot easier. Stay here in the Swanta Guest House for service from one of the nicest ladies in the world. The young woman that works here along with her family is the village school teacher, an adoptive single mother and is so kind. In Dhankarka, there are only to lodges, and upper and lower. Definitely do the lower as we did and was great. … is a great cook and the upper is a community lodge which don’t have a good reputation.
To Dhankarka, took us 12 hours, from sunrise at Poon Hill to sunset stumbling into Dhankarka. If you went a bit faster though, it still would be possible to get all the way up from Poon Hill to Khopra in one day, but the elevation jump is too risky to recommend.
From Dhankarka to Khopra is maybe a little over 2 hours, with some steep sections. You will begin to bump into your first yaks if you haven’t already. At your approach to Khopra, there will be a V in the road advertising two lodges. At the time we went (October 2015), the right hand one had been closed down so take the left one but be careful if the trail is wet, it is super dicey especially if you’re tired. Unfortunately it was our favourite place but our least favourite lodge as it is a community lodge with a much colder feel to the normal Nepali hospitality. Can’t expect much of a break in prices on anything there. The consolation is that Khopra is absolutely beautiful, on a ridge with 360o views. Make sure you go outside at night when its clear, if the moon is shining on the peaks, you’re in for a treat. Take some long exposures with your mini tripod.
Trekking Without a Guide: Khopra Danda-Khayer Lake
(Khopra Danda-Khayer Lake (nothing in between))
Feel like a 16 km jaunt all over 4000m with a gradient that will make you whimper? Cool, yeah, me too. Disclaimer: honestly, the ridge around Khopra is absolutely beautiful, yaks and all. It gives 360 degree views, while Khayer is shrouded in a valley at the feet of the icy Himalayan ridges. If you haven’t acclimatized to heights above Khopra, Khayer Lake will be hard. Danica stayed at the lodge this day, and not much did the thought, “Wow, she is going to miss this” conjure up in my mind. But, I am still glad I went, a memory I won’t forget…
From the community lodge you follow the ridge past the other lodge towards the closest Annapurna peak which has a large black mound of rock without vegetation in front of the peak from the vantage point of the lodge. It is between that coal-looking peak and the snow-capped peak that Khayer Lake lies. Looks close, I thought.
Some more factors to consider… It was 4 and a half hours up, and a little over 3 hours down. Someone said he did it in 3 going up. I challenge his validity. It was pretty gruelling. Honestly the ridge that follows the two lodges on Khopra Danda offer amazing views. But you can go to Khayer Lake for bragging rights if you’re the bragging type.
All the sign boards you will pass are in Nepali. Some are sign posts pointing you to the right, instead of more straight up to the lake. Some are memorials of shrines. Others are regarding the rebuilding of some of the path in 2014 and 2015.
This was the hardest day, but you only have to bring food and a bag to put your layers in, so it’s a lot less weight.
Trekking Without a Guide: Khopra Danda to Ghandruk
* I made an error in the narration of the video when showing a trail fork, one going down to Swanta, the other going up (shown in the end of the clip) to Bayali. Bayali, not Khopra, we came from the trail to Khopra.
Note: This is a return journey for us (heading down the mountain), but it could just as well be your route going up from Pokhara to Khopra. Ghandruk is also a main pit stop for the Annapurna Base Camp trek.
From Khopra, it’s all downhill. You’ll be switching which muscles will be burning, but the days are not as exhausting, for sure. There are two trails to Bayali. The higher trail you will first find at the plateau after you come down from Khopra Dhanda has an arrow to Bayali but is crossed out, and labeled “closed.” it is a narrow trail on a ridge, used regularly by locals as it is the only direct way to Bayali from Khopra, taking about 2 hours with the lower, safer trail taking double that. To get to the safer trail, you go back to Dhankarka, and then as you approach the lower lodge on the right side of the path, there will be a different path starting on your left, perpendicular to the path your descending on. In Bayali, you will surely stop at the lodge for food. Nabin who looks after that lodge cooks great food in big portions and is very friendly and kind. You can come right in the kitchen to warm up if the outer fire is not lit. It is one of my favorite traditional kitchens, with a bed beside the cooking fire for frigid winters. From Bayali you are not too far from Dobato, which is where we stayed for the night, a larger village with the main lodge on the lower part of the village, with the road separating the restaurant from the sleeping quarters. It is run by a couple with a son who all live there year round. They are a nice, curious family, with good food, and a warm restaurant. They offer hot bucket showers, but don’t have WiFi.
The next morning, about a 30 minute walk up the hill from the lodge is Muldhai View Point at 3637 m, offering a beautiful view of the Himalayan peaks.
From Dobato, in the morning you can make it to Tadapani for lunch. The descent is beautiful. As you come in through the threshold of the village you will encounter a large white building on your right side as you come in with main doors on the far side where the rock paved square is. Tadapani is a far bigger village then anything north of it, with souvenirs available. From here on out, as you descend down, you’ll run in to lots of places to buy scarves, shawls, gloves, etc. that are made locally, for the same or cheaper than Pokhara. You have more bargaining power on the trek though, and people are nicer than the super-touristized Pokhara.
After lunch you have a not too crazy difficult drop down to Ghandruk, the biggest village you’ll have seen since leaving Pokhara. It is catered for tourists, but it keeps the Gurung culture and feel. It was an enjoyable visit.
We like to do things different from the norm, so when our friends found a home stay in Ghandruk instead of staying in a hotel, we were really excited. We highly recommend the Dil Kumari Experience Homestay. Dil Kumari is an elderly lady with a lot of spunk. Her husband has been deaf for many years, and is super accommodating and doting. Their son is in the army in India. When he is not in Ghandruk his wife Tikka is there. The prices were reasonable, the hospitality was great, and they shared aspects of their traditional life that you can experience. If you want to, you can dress up in traditional clothes for 100 NRS ($1), but we opted out of that. Food is good and traditional. The rooms are basic, but you’re not hanging out in them much. And the apple pie at the “German” bakery next door is extremely good although expensive.
Trekking Without a Guide: Ghandruk to Pokhara
After roaming up and down Ghandruk’s stone stairways and admiring the beautiful Himalayan view, you can finally head back down the mountain paths. From Ghandruk, you head down on a wide stone stairway until you hit the main road. Depending on your timeframe and energy level, you can walk down to Nayapul, or you can grab a bus at the first village you hit on the main road with buses (which will be Lychi).
That’s it for this trek. Make sure you email subscribe to keep up-to-date on more trekking information and out of the ordinary travel.
Let us know of any questions, input, or trekking recommendations in the comments!